WEST CALDWELL, NJ – A small Cessna 206 aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from the Essex County Airport, killing the plane's pilot on Saturday morning according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
West Caldwell Fire Chief Jim Alvine saw the plane flying low on the East side of Passaic Avenue heading north. He followed the plane until he watched it crash into a wooded area behind the Kiddie Academy at 810 Passaic Avenue in West Caldwell.
"The plane immediately exploded into flames," Alvine said in an email. "I immediately called our headquarters and requested the fire department, the first aid squad and mutual aid from surrounding towns as I did not know how many victims were in the plane."
Firefighters from West Caldwell and Fairfield were the first on the scene and had to cut through a fence to reach the plane, which was burning in a wooded area behind the day care.
A rapid intervention team from the Verona Fire Department and the West Essex First Aid Squad were on the scene soon after.
The pilot's body was found inside the plane after the fire was extinguished. The pilot was identified on Sunday as 50-year-old John Hannon of Lakewood, New Jersey.
Hannon ran a flight training school out of Monmouth and Lakewood airports and had a passion for flying according to his family and friends.
The West Caldwell Police Department and the Federal Aviation Administration took control of the scene after the fire was put out completely.
Passaic Avenue was closed off between Fairfield Avenue and Beverly Road while the police and Federal Aviation Administration investigated the cause of the crash, but was reopened in both directions at around 12:30 p.m. according to the West Caldwell Police Department.
The aircraft crashed about a half mile away from the Essex County Airport after taking off from Runway 22 at around 10 a.m. this morning.
The National Transportation Safety Board is determining the probable cause of the crash, which is now believed to be a problem with the plane’s engine.
According to witnesses, the plane was nearly silent before it crashed into the ground. According to Todd Gunther, who is leading the NTSB’s investigation, there were no problems with the flight control, brake or fuel systems in the aircraft.
"It appears the flight control system was working correctly. We don't have any type of in-flight structural failure that we can establish," he told nj.com.
Expect for the NTSB to release a preliminary report on the plane crash within the next week. However, the thorough investigation will likely take almost a year to be completed.
There were no other passengers on board the aircraft at the time of the crash. The plane was headed to Teterboro Airport to pick up an additional passenger.